What I learnt from social media about being social

I’ve grown more active than ever before on Twitter. And if there’s one thing that it’s taught me, it’s that reciprocation is everything.

When I first joined Twitter over six years ago, I looked up to celebrity accounts like every other novice. It amazed me how much the paparazzi buzzed after them and how even though they followed no one, their accounts boasted a massive following. I wanted to be like them. Shame on me, I now realise.

Because I tried so hard to be an influencer even before I understood the purpose and meaning of social media, I couldn’t get past a few tweets a week and a meagre following of friends who signed up for Twitter and forgot all about it. My account was at a sorry state and without trying too much I faltered, ignoring my account altogether. What I didn’t realise is that everyone who did well on social media were either channelling their success from offline or from other platforms. Industry specialists, cinema stars, subject matter experts—all of them were already established before they posted their first tweet.

I, on the other hand, was a scrawny 19-year-old drunk on Shakespeare, trying to be poetic in every line I said. Plus, I wouldn’t follow anyone. People should follow me for my genius—I thought every day as I logged into Twitter. I didn’t think about meeting new people, conversing, exchanging insights, or learning.

That’s why I couldn’t get the hang of social media.

It took me long enough, but I’m glad that I’ve come a long way since. After years of being a failed twitterer, I discovered how chats brought out the sociableness in me. I understood that we gain value from a network when we offer value in return. Social media isn’t about posting a fantastic message and the likes. It’s a community, instead, where we should be willing to follow other people’s train of thoughts, thank them in sincerity for their opinion, and reply only if and when appropriate.

I’ve been trying do that for a while now.

No, my followers count hasn’t peaked up overnight. And no, I don’t have paparazzi outside my window. But no, I don’t feel like a failure either.

I feel like an achievement. Because I now realise the likes and followers don’t matter as much as the ideas and their reach. Amazing how far a thought can go on social media. My old classmates (who I no longer speak to but are on my network) liking my posts doesn’t matter as much as a relevant person chatting over it—of course, retweeting and sharing helps, but it’s not what drives my worth anymore.

Every time I go on social media now, I know that I’m only a tiny speck in an ocean bigger than anything I’ve seen. The deeper I engage with people who share my interests, the more I learn that I have a lot to learn. Every day I come across people I want to probe, to ask questions from, and to discuss what I think.

Social is not one-way communication riddled with ego. It’s social—where everyone knows and accepts they’re a fool sometimes and a genius at other times.

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